The world knew going into South America’s final round of World Cup qualifying that we were in for blockbuster games. second placed Uruguay travelled to Venezuela, third placed Colombia played hosts to Paraguay and fifth place Argentina welcomed fourth place Peru to the historic, iconic and intimidating Bombonera Stadium, and Chile welcomed Ecuador to the Estadio Monumental in Santiago. However, this penultimate round of football belonged to only Chile and Argentina as one powerhouse, according to results was to be left out of qualifying for Russia.
It was all about three nations: Peru, Argentina and Chile
Things in South America never seem to follow plan as drama unfolds minute after minute both on and off the football pitch. Prior to their World Cup fixture versus Peru, AFA, Argentina’s Football Association, changed venues to the Bombonera, sold thousands of tickets to Boca Juniors ultras. Peru also played their cards as Peru’s coaching staff made sure Peru took their own drinks and Peru’s football association, FPF, paused Peru’s domestic football league so coach Ricardo Gareca could round up his men to camp early and prepare for his mouth-watering fixture as Peru held onto fourth spot.
Across the border coach of La Roja Juan Antonio Pizzi, had problems of his own after heavy criticism following his team selection, omitting veteran midfielder Marcelo Diaz. Pizzi entered this round with back-to-back defeats by Paraguay and Bolivia which left Chile sixth place and missing their plane to Russia in 2018.
Peru on the other hand entered Buenos Aires to a raucous reception by travelling Peruvian fans who look like took over the city. Rightly so, Los Blanquirojos were up beat as a win or draw would aid their quest to qualifying for a World Cup after a 35 year absence.
The world multi-tasked as Chile-Ecuador played at the same time as Argentina-Peru but it was Chile who opened the scoring after Chile’s talisman, Eduardo Vargas broke the dead-lock on 20 minutes via a cutback in the box by newly called Jorge Valdivia. Chile were in control of this fixture having majority of the possession. They were however, caught on the break as La Roja seemed to have played with two at the back in Medel and Jara. Argentina were in utter control over Peru as the opening 20 minutes Los Albiceleste already have a number of scoring opportunities falling to Messi and Di Maria. As Chile were leading in Santiago it was over to La Bombonera where Argentina needed to score.
As the match wore on and Argentina’s control of the game never stopped it was all to no result. Sampaoli’s men could not break a Peru side who are at arms reach of Russia and could not get past Gallese, a goal-keeper who seemed to have had the spirit of his nation on his back in order to not concede. Peru, however, did not buckle as they too had their moments in possession before the break as Jefferson Farfan slid his shot past the near post in the box.
Half-time arrived as both teams shook off any first half jitters, Argentina entered in full throttle with three shots on target in the opening minute of the second half.
Across the ditch there was no change in scores as Chile held onto their 1-0 lead.
Failed chances haunted Argentina and Messi tried his best to create countless scoring opportunities for Boca Juniors forward Benedetto who could not polish his finishing and Messi missed a clear goal after hitting the post after catching a rebound. As time went on and the tense atmosphere reached unpredictable heights, it was clear the pressure of this qualifying campaign hit Messi as his precision passing flaked and failed to beat Peruvian defenders with his dribbling ability. It was more problems for Sampaoli’s third match in charge as Fernando Gago was substituted on for Banega though, Gago fell injured five minutes into his cameo replaced again robbing Sampaoli of a final change.
The CONMEBOL standings were shaken up as Ecuador found an equaliser on 84 minutes that saw Argentina a step closer to Russia and Chile’s hopes of reaching Russia gone. Minutes later Chile regained their lead via Alexis Sanchez and Paraguay scored against Colombia meant once again CONMBEOL standings were to be reshuffled.
Final whistles blew as Chile won 2-1 and Argentina could not break the dead-lock against Peru as the game finished 0-0. A horrendous result which left Los Albiceleste out of qualification in sixth, Peru in the play-off spot in fifth and Chile jumped to third still one point separating third and sixth.
So, what now?
The final game of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying plays on the 11th of October and for more drama, all matches will be played at the same time that is 10:30am (AEST):
Ecuador vs Argentina
Brazil vs Chile
Paraguay vs Venezuela
Uruguay vs Bolivia
Peru vs Colombia
Chile have to make a tough trip to Brazil without key midfielder Arturo Vidal who received his fifth yellow card leading him to miss a game. Chile do however need to get a result in Sao Paolo in order to clinch automatic qualification.
Argentina will need to win away in Quito, Ecuador against a team who is already eliminated. A tough ask as Ecuador will like to leave with a bang as this fresh young side played right up against Chile and as we know, anything is possible.
Peru also play a tough match in Lima as former third placed Colombia fell to Paraguay earlier today which meant Colombia dropped to fourth now occupying automatic fourth spot. Both teams know a win or a win means qualification for Russia 2018.